Michaela Groves is the School Business Manager at standalone academy Atwood Primary in South Croydon. After struggling to get to grips with her old accountancy software, Michaela was desperate to join the HCSS Accounting pilot programme.
Michaela is a veteran of the education finance world and was involved in school business management long before the School Business Manager job title became popular. She holds CSBM, DSBM and ADSBM qualifications through the National College of School Leadership.
One of the big reasons behind her success is her ability to collaborate and make partnerships with other school leaders. A serial networker, she learns best practice from her peers in various membership organisations and focus groups.
Michaela also likes to share her own best practices, and regularly sings the praises of HCSS Accounting to her peers at other schools.
“Sometimes I feel like an unofficial HCSS Accounting ambassador,” she admits.
She continued: “I speak to a lot of business managers over the phone, by email and even in person. They usually want to know the same thing – what I think, what I used before and what teething problems there were. I am happy to do it and I like reassuring other school leaders.”
Within a few months of joining Atwood Primary Academy in 2015, Michaela was desperate to find an alternative to PS Financials, which the school had invested in some years previously.
She said: "On joining Atwood, the financial procedures and systems in place were not fit for purpose. This was the result of a few years of inexperienced staff, training issues not being identified and lack of support from the service provider. The school didn't have a support package, so when it came to resolving our legacy problems, the company wasn't very helpful.
"I found the system difficult to use and understand compared to what I was using before joining Atwood. I needed to get the finances in order and be confident in producing reports to the Board of Trustees. There was no training offered by PS Financials although I had requested this, therefore I was not sure that what I was doing was right. I know that PS Financials works for some people, but it just wasn't right for us. I needed a system that could offer the above, have robust financial accountability, save us time and money - HCSS Accountancy does just that."
Michaela was desperate to switch to a new accountancy platform. So when she learned that a last-minute spot had become available on the HCSS Accounting pilot programme, she jumped at the opportunity.
“We were late joining the pilot programme, but HCSS agreed to let me join at short notice,” Michaela said.
She continued: “It was all a bit rushed to be honest, because we only had two weeks to migrate everything before we broke up for summer. With hindsight, we could have probably organised the new system a bit better.”
Working with HCSS Education’s team of consultants, Michaela chose to transfer all her financial data from one system to another on a like-for-like basis.
Some School Business Managers take the opportunity of switching systems to perform some spring cleaning on things like cost centres and codes. But these processes can also be carried out throughout the financial year.
Michaela said: “On the whole, I would say the changeover was a success. The software was in late development when we first came on board, but whenever I had a problem, it was never too much trouble to get it sorted. The Customer Support team are great and Ammar, in particular, has been fantastic.”
Michaela is always happy to share her experiences of HCSS Accounting with other school business managers (SBMs).
She said: “I have had a few SBMs come and visit the school to see HCSS Accounting in action. And I’m happy to do it because I think it’s important to see the software to really understand it before making a financial commitment."
“The first thing I ask people is if they have used HCSS Budgeting before. Because HCSS Accounting has the same feel, the same easy functionality and natural way of working.”
In her role as unofficial brand ambassador, Michaela has recommended HCSS Accounting to at least half a dozen of her peers and there’s good reason.
“It saves me time and, I never thought I would say this but it has put the enjoyment into preparing the monthly accounts again,” Michaela said.
She continued: “I’m in quite a good place to judge because I have used three different systems in the last 18 months. To do some simple finance tasks, SIMS FMS took me about a day, PS Financials took in excess of two days, because of the way the system operates, and HCSS Accounting takes me about half a day.
“Finance is a big part of the SBM role, but it was never really my speciality, so it’s important that we have an easy system that multiple staff members can use for five-year budgeting with continuity and non-duplication of work. HCSS Accounting makes it so simple and it’s actually a pleasure to use.
“With HCSS Accounting, I can drill down into the finances a bit more and really look into where we are spending money.”
There are still some things that Michaela would improve about HCSS Accounting. She is slowly updating cost centres and there are elements of functionality that she hasn’t tried out yet.
Michaela continues to be involved in the development of the software, and she believes that the company is responsive to feedback from customers.
“It is definitely not a static software project – it’s always evolving to meet the needs of schools in the future,” she said.
She continued: “I very much think that HCSS is on a journey with its accounting software and we are on that journey too. From talking to other school business managers, I’ve realised that there are lots of different ways of using the software and I am learning new things about it all the time.”